In 2001, CC’s founder, Michael Kaiser, started what was expected to be a two-year sabbatical for The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Kaiser had planned to use the time to complete a doctorate he had begun at Harvard University almost a decade earlier, but instead spent the next nine years working almost exclusively for The CDC to put science behind his innovative, Grass-roots Approach. Kaiser’s case studies in Haiti, Ukraine and The Philippines were enormously successful, despite being completely contrary to traditional foreign aid interventions, earning him the nickname Godfather of Grass-roots. His colleagues at CDC later teased him for being the Grandfather of Grass-roots because of the enormous amount of time it took to prove his theory!
The Grass-roots Approach differs from traditional, top-down or outside-in interventions in that it enlists support from local residents and local companies rather than relying on large international aid organizations or foreign consultants to solve local problems. In a Grass-roots Campaign, no money is provided. The campaign is seen as a process rather than a program, with only technical assistance provided to affected communities. Any fund-raising must be done locally by campaign organizers who act as coaches operating on the sidelines rather than being more active players on the field. This ultimately requires local residents to take on the responsibility of local problem solving themselves, but they also get full credit for any solutions they might find rather than seeing that credit go to international aid organizations. The ultimate outcome is self-determination for local residents, which strengthens local communities.
Rather than developing country plans, the grass-roots approach develops local plans, working one city, even one village at a time, creating local models that can be replicated in other cities and villages. This local success eventually percolates up to relieve pressures on the national government, both financially and politically, regardless of whether it is a democracy or dictatorship.
Encouraging local residents to solve their own problems rather than relying on international aid organizations, consultants or the national government to solve their problems for them, not only is more effective, but also more cost-efficient and far more sustainable than relying on traditional, top-down, outside-in interventions. Kaiser’s theory is, the more problematic the country, the greater the chance for success using a grass-roots approach, which he has proven to be the case in every country where it has been tested thus far, including three countries that the U.S. State Department has considered to be among the most difficult in the world for delivering foreign aid.